Typically you find that Conservative councils apply socialist policies. This is not normally because Conservative councillors are closet socialists. The problem is they allow policy to be driven by the bureaucracy. Thus, socialist policy remains in place even if control of the council switches from Lib Dem or Labour to Conservative.
What are the socialist characteristics of most Conservative councils?
1. High Council Tax. Band D Council Tax is, on average, £1,138 a year under Conservative councils. Under Labour ones it is £1,206. So is the price of socialism only £68 a year? Or is it more reasonable to say that many Conservative councils are practising socialism? The gap would be even smaller if we took Westminster and Wandsworth out of the equation.
2. Opposing school choice. Often Conservative councils have planning policies which seek to thwart new free schools (or independent schools for that matter) from opening. Many have tried to dissuade schools from becoming academies.
3. Punishing home ownership. Council leaseholders have excessive and complicated charges and find housing officers treat them as class enemies.
4. Using jargon to escape scrutiny. Often Conservative councils will use "investment" as a term for "spending." "Equality" is another word that crops up a lot. Fine if it means that all residents are equally important. But often supposedly Conservative councils pursue equality of economic outcome as an objective. Socialists believe that reducing poverty and reducing inequality are the same thing. Conservatives should understand that they are different. Language matters – for instance in the criteria used to allocate grants to voluntary organisations.
5. Penalising motorists. There needs to be parking charges as space is limited. But typically the annual parking permit charge is higher than justified on these grounds. Traffic jams are also encouraged by excessive amount of traffic lights, bus lanes and humps. Too much street clutter and too many road signs adds to the trouble.
6. Keeping too many children in care. This is perhaps the most stark example. Every relevant Conservative council (those "upper tier" authorities with a "Children's Services" department) applies radical Socialist policies in this area. Social work ideology trumps the interests of the child. Most children in care could and should be placed for adoption. (I won't go through all the details here as I have written about this endlessly before.)
7. Putting burdens on small business. I don't know of a single council that has used the powers that exist to reduce Business Rates for small shops.
8. Opposing traditional architecture. Planning officers will often literally write their own policy to oppose neo-classical architecture. They will slip something in on page 217 of the Unitary Development Plan of the Local Development Framework warning that "pastiche" or "backward looking" design will not gain favour but that something "imaginative" would be welcome. This policy is then used to ensure brutalist concrete slabs go up rather than the sort of design most people prefer.
9. Soft on eviction. Councils, including Conservative councils, are feeble when it comes to evicting the "neighbours from Hell" who make lives for other council tenants such a misery.
10. Asset hoarding. Usually Conservative as well as Labour councils have unused or underused buildings in municipal ownership while also spending a fortune on interest.
Before UKIP became a force in the land this was easier to get away with. If a voter felt their local Conservative council was too socialist would it really make sense for them to vote Labour or Lib Dem? If a Conservative councillor was disillusioned on the same basis it would be similarly perverse for them to defect to Labour or the Lib Dems.
So the right response to UKIP is for Conservative councils to take a step back and consider if they are applying Conservative principles. Not merely to stop votes seeping to UKIP but because it would be right to do so. Of course we can all draw up our own lists of what policies would and would not result. Dealing with the ten problems listed above would mean embracing the common ground rather than the centre ground. It would appeal to the disaffected, but not in a way that would narrow our appeal to others. The suggestion that we have to choose between winning votes from UKIP or winning votes from Labour and the Lib Dems is quite false, locally as well as nationally.